This article originally appeared in Pyramid #16
Our World Travels
or, "The Illuminati Go Where They Please," Part III
Editor's Note: Over the past few months, Steve Jackson Games staffers have traveled the globe in search of gaming trends the world over, or at least the perfect chocolate-covered espresso bean. Their reports follow.
Update on Brazilby Steve Jackson
In 1993, I visited Brazil's biggest game convention and returned to tell the tale in Pyramid #4. In 1995, I went back.
What's Changed?The Brazilian economy has turned around. Inflation is now lower than in the U.S. Prosperity is spreading, and lots of people are buying games.
And the "Encontro de RPG" is much bigger now. Much, much bigger. I made it only to the Sao Paulo show this year, but there were clearly more people there than at the 1995 Origins. There were more and bigger booths, too.
My hosts at Devir Livraria, who publish the Brazilian edition of GURPS, have a brand new retail outlet in a beautiful old house near their offices. The guest house in back has been turned into a gaming area. Very nice! And, of course, Magic is everywhere. It's still in English only, even as I write this . . . but the Brazilian edition, published by Devir, is at the printers! (Late note: It's out now!) There was a lot of interest in INWO (and a good little tournament) - but there as here, Magic is still in first place. However, Devir wants their next card game to be a Portuguese version of INWO. Fine with me!
What's The Same?And the music is still great. One night, Thad Blanchette took us out to a club to listen to MPB - the generic term for "musica popular brasiliero," or Brazilian popular music. Strong beat, with influence both from English-language folk and rock, and lots of social and political themes. Good stuff. We were packed in so tight that nobody could move . . . and everybody was moving anyway, a lot . . . and those who couldn't sing were banging on the tables, and it was all just part of the music.
Another night we went to a party hosted by the Camarilla, the senior Sao Paulo gaming group. The agenda here was to show the visitors that the Paulistas could party as well as any Cariocas. All right, I'm convinced . . . we got in some serious dancing, to a live band that would have done any New York club proud. Or even an Austin one . . .
And the Portuguese language is still full of traps for the unwary. Literally. The word for "trap'' looks very much like the English "armadillo." So the necromancer's dungeon is protected by dozens of deadly magical . . . wha-a-a-t? And the real word for "armadillo" is very much like our word "tattoo.'' So don't compliment a lady's tattoo unless you are sure what language you're speaking.
GURPS is still a big deal in Brazil, and getting bigger. Devir is supporting the system very well . . . their GURPS Illuminati was launched at the convention. To publicize it, Devir hosted a big Killer game with an Illuminated theme . . . this was huge fun to watch, especially since all the assistant referees were dressed as really classy Men in Black (with one smashing Lady in Black). I started making notes for a real Men in Black LARP that same night . . . if it ever sees print, you'll know where I got the idea!
What Happened?Lots of stuff. In no particular order:
My co-guests were Dave Arneson (co-creator of D&D, for those of you who just tuned in) and Marco Pecota of Global Games. They both had a great time. Dave doesn't get half the recognition he deserves in the U.S. - but here he was overwhelmed by questions and autograph-hunters. Literally overwhelmed, unfortunately . . . Dave was struggling against a jaw infection and tried to play "iron man'' a bit too long. He wound up in the hospital! He's out now and all right, though.
Before he ran out of hit points, he was a center of attention at the launch party for the Portuguese edition of Dragon Magazine. Held in a beautiful old mansion-turned-nightclub that is a Mecca for the local goths, this was definitely a Class Act.
Another attention-grabber was the castle-booth of GROW, which publishes D&D in Brazil. They staffed their castle with barbarians of both sexes . . . but not the flabby, self-conscious posers you see too often at conventions. They all had deep tans and muscles on their muscles, and were comfortable in their costumes. (I heard later that they were all performers at local clubs, and the skimpy leather outfits were much more modest than their usual working clothes.)
After the ConI took a day off and visited the small, beautiful town of Ouro Preto, with a Devir staffer to keep me out of trouble. Ouro Preto is in the middle of a mining area; it's a good place to look at gems and geodes. There are also several beautiful old churches. The whole town is built on hillsides. In the main plaza is a memorial to Tiradentes, or "Toothpuller," a martyr of an early revolt against the Portuguese crown. His head was once displayed in the plaza as a warning to other rebels; now his statue stands there.
The Parting Shot . . .
As we were heading for the gate at the Sao Paulo airport, we stopped at a Pizza Hut stand for some coffee . . . and the fellow behind the counter recognized me and asked for an autograph! So he got it, on a napkin. The Devir crew seemed to be as boggled as I was. I asked them afterward if the guy had been a plant . . . it would have been the Illuminated way to see me off. They denied it. Coincidence? You decide.
My European Vacationby Derek Pearcy
Monday, June 12, 1995 Touring Europe has done two things for me. First, and most important to my co-workers, it's forced me to relax a great deal. You can only get so upset about something when you're relying on everyone else to speak your language. Second, it's thrown my American-ness - that in my character which I never realized is uniquely a product of my culture, for better or worse - into sharp relief. For example, until my friends in Europe told me, I never realized that all Americans talk loud and fast, gesturing wildly with unholstered pistols. It just seemed like a given. So from my new, relaxed perspective, heightened by a fresh sense of American clarity, let's talk about the state of gaming on the other side of the Atlantic. I'll try to keep my pistol holstered.
Stop 1: The NetherlandsSince it would be too boring not to mix pleasure with pain, I started the vacation leg of my trip with what I was hoping to get away from - work stuff - beginning with a gaming convention in Eindhoven, Holland. It was a general gaming con, but Magic was the most popular thing there. The con staff organized an Iron Man Magic event, where discarded cards are torn up, much to the delight of the anti-Magic crowd - and reportedly, the same staffers conveniently happened to have a bunch of Magic on hand to sell at the end of the contest, to replace the cards players destroyed in battle.
A surprising number of Americans were seen at the show, hopping over the pond after Capitol City Distrubution's shindig in Chicago. Like John Nephew (traveling companion extraordinairŽ) and his gang from Atlas Games, eagerly pushing On the Edge; Charlie Crank of Chaosium, fleshing out his early thoughts on Mythos, the Call of Cthulhu Card Game, tentatively due out next spring; the boys from R. Talsorian, without a card game but busily psyching people up about Mekton Zeta; as well as people from Flying Buffalo, Chameleon Eclectic, FGP and plenty of other people I don't remember right off hand or are purposefully ignoring and who will beat me senseless the next time they see me for not mentioning them here.
Gaming in the Netherlands doesn't seem to be a huge thing. Most of the people who showed up at the convention - about 2,000 - were card enthusiasts from outlying regions and neighboring countries (Belgium, France and Germany, mostly). Few real locals seemed to be in attendance. Some blamed the con staff, others blamed the fact that it was not only a beautiful weekend outside, but also the 50th anniversary of V-E Day - don't let it be said that Europeans ever overlooked an excuse to party. It was an odd synchronicity that had me arriving in Europe 50 years after both my grandfathers returned from fighting in the war. We Americans found it particularly ego-satisfying to be there at that historic moment, as the Dutch roundly thanked us in red, white and blue lights for helping them throw off the bitter yoke of German tyranny. People ran through the streets shouting, "Hooray! We won!" and breaking beer glasses against cobblestone pavement.
The Dutch know English better than most American fast-food drive-through cashiers. This is good for us Americans because we don't have to deal with local game companies who want to translate our work into the local language and the headaches that come from that. We just ship our product as is, and further erode the cultural base of the Dutch language. Hooray! We win again! Everyone in Europe that I gamed with, though, were like gamers everywhere - they played to win. More often than not, they won. Actually, when I played, the Europeans won. This says more about me than about them. And they spoke good English, so it was more difficult to think of them as damn foreigners (which, as an American, I discovered I was obligated to do). I tried anyway. Lots of loud and fast talking, lots of unholstered pistol brandishing. What's worse, they even refused to listen to reason. "Come on," went a usual American argument, "don't attack my Vibe Valiant, weren't you guys just thanking us for helping you throw off the bitter yoke of German tyranny?" This kind of logic is a special sort of failure at a table full of Germans. We did, however, discover an intriguing new playing variant, similar to Iron Man Magic, where all discarded cards must be torn up and eaten by the American at the table.
After stopping off in Belgium for a day to visit famed card printer Carta Mundi - whose favorite client, Wizards of the Coast, is giving them so much business that they're opening an office in Cincinnati - we proceeded on to France.
Derek took a picture of his first European UFO. It was hovering over the pyramid
at the Louvre. "This is important news," he screamed at the throngs around him.
"Society must be warned! The aliens don't want our women, they want our art!"
And yet, no one listened. We don't believe him, either.s
Stop 2: France! (or, "All You Need is Louvre!")In France, things are very different. It's not merely that comic artists are revered as gods while no one could care less about Star Trek: The Next Generation, or that more French have heard of P.J. Harvey than O.J. Simpson, they just have a different attitude about entertainment and the media than America, in general. But some things are sadly familiar: even though a comic store I visited had more Tintin merchandise than you could shake a bread stick at, I was told that Croc, the prolific author whose credits include many of France's most popular game worlds, is the only paid full-time game designer in the country. Companies like Jeux Decartes, MultiSim and Halloween Concepts put more care into designing a single supplement than many U.S. game companies throw into a year's worth of releases, but gaming products continue to be denied the red carpet treatment they deserve, even from their own countrymen.
France was beautiful, even the urban sprawl. Unlike Texas, most of their buildings are older than both my grandfathers and just as strong. In fifty years, when the house I live in today has finally fallen to the forces of entropy, the buildings of France will continue counting their birthdays. And the French were wonderful people, especially the ones who didn't beat or strip-search me. So I went to France, experienced the Louvre (over and over), got my first look at the Sony Playstation and made some great new friends. Then I went to that island where everyone spoke English - except, I was politely informed with pained smiles, for me. (Hey, y'all! Let's go to London fer a spell!)
Zilka was Derek's host in France. An invaluable member of the
original French In Nomine game design team, he works for the
Red Cross in Paris where he teaches first-aid, answers pages
and drives very quickly
Stop 3: England! (or, "MIND . . . THE GAP.")Europe is a thief who stole half a day from me. I've spared you my jet lag rant. Going to England, I regained an hour of that lost time - not enough to make a difference, but just enough to screw up my dealings with people on the continent.
Leaving our friends in France, John and I took off for England where we enjoyed the hospitality of James Wallis, proprietor of Hogshead. They're the folks who put out the Interactive Fantasy digest and have acquired the rights to Games Workshops' Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. The other really interesting project coming out of Hogshead this year is FRUP, where the players take the roles of characters living in a low-mana world that runs itself by the rules of a fantasy role-playing game.
John and James had a lot to talk about - after all, James is one of the original authors of Atlas Games' upcoming release Once Upon a Time, Second Edition and stands a chance to make out like a bandit if the new edition does as well as it deserves to. See the Pyramid Pick of the original game in Pyramid #6 for a preview of how cool the new edition will be.
The only game I played while I was in England was MicroMachines II for the Sega platform. James whupped my butt, continuing an unsettling trend of Europeans being very, very nice to me, smiling and nodding while I displayed my American-ness, then trouncing me miserably at their game of choice. Neolithibum is a cool German board game James showed me, though we never got around to playing. It concerns the building of little ancient caerns with rocks - real rocks - that are provided with the game. As James was quick to point out, there being different levels of rarity for the different sizes of stones, it remains the only collectible rock game ever created. Hmm . . . collectible rocks, booster pebbles . . . we might be on to something here. (Note to myself: call Carta Mundi, can they do rocks? Don't we have a bunch of gravel in our driveway? Emergency Creative Staff Meeting, now! Ride that rocket, baby!)
Stop 4: Germany! (or, "Fliegende Untertasse?")The one thing I just couldn't get over about Europe was that people there, the vast majority at least, don't have guns. Understand that I live in Texas, and I am used to assuming that anyone I'm talking with can (and most often do) have the better part of an arsenal within arm's reach at any given moment. I told some of my hosts that it was a strange sense of freedom thinking of my reduced chances of getting randomly shot at while walking merrily down the street. "Many people do carry knives," it was explained to me, "big knives." Alex Klesen, my German friend who frightens children when he smiles through his steel-textured blond goatee, showed me his knife. It's a big one. Safety is important.
CONspiracy, the convention I'd gone to Europe to experience in the first place, felt safe. This was good for the over 500 people there to play in the German Magic championships, many of whom had spent astronomical amounts of cash assembling their jealously guarded decks. Except for the cases of Rage stolen from the back of someone's car, the con felt safe. Many of the gamers that stayed for both days of the con pitched tents right outside the gaming hall, making it feel like a great big musky Woodstock of a convention. The other big news at CONspiracy - brace yourself, plug imminent - was the release of the German edition of INWO. Yes, in German the acronym stays the same, but bunches of cards were changed to reflect the deutsche perspective on global domination. See the article elsewhere in this issue for a more in-depth report.
The German INWO players were brutal. By then, I'd clued in to the emergent pattern. Even with a Cthulhu Weather-God deck I was unable to take a game. I shouted curses at the sky. The sky did not answer. So in the end I returned to the States, beaten but not defeated, with lots of great booty, lots of new friends and lots of great stories. And if you think this has sounded just a little bit forced, corner me at a convention and maybe I'll tell you what really happened. Au revoir.
Article publication date: December 1, 1995
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